Main menu


He ran a marathon in prison. Boston was easier.

featured image

BOSTON — Among all the runners in Monday’s first wave of the Boston Marathon, there was one lean, muscular marathoner with skinny ankles from Northern California. Markelle Taylor, a former San Quentin State Penitentiary resident, ran free for the first time.

Just a week ago, Taylor, who was released from prison in 2019, received word that he had finally been released on parole after three long years where his movement was severely restricted and his travel required special permits. He got off the plane as a free man at Logan International Airport in Boston with his running gear. “Man, that was a great feeling,” he said, with traces of Mississippian roots evident in his accent.

On that glorious morning of April 18, the coolness and clear skies of his Bay Area home helped the 49-year-old Taylor feel better and more relaxed than he had been in years. Nike his Alphafly and his Tamalpa in his county of Marin, Calif. His run.In orange shorts to match the tank he chose in honor of his club, he was there within three hours. determined to reach his goal of running three consecutive marathons. The “3” was meaningful to him. Parole Hearing No. 3 released him after 18 years in prison on second-degree murder charges, and it took him three years before he was released from parole.

Taylor, nicknamed the Gazelle, looked like he was out for a walk as he crossed the finish line in 2:52. Too much “didn’t drive me crazy.” He was fine when a marathoner who noticed his performance asked him to take a selfie. Told. “Very consistent.”

Minutes later, emails from Marin’s coaches, supporters and fellow runners began pouring in. they are still “He’s mentally tough and pushes hard even when he’s injured,” said Diana Fitzpatrick, who coached Taylor and is the first female president of the Western States 100-mile endurance run. “The support Markell has from the community is all thanks to who he is.”

The close-knit community of Tamalpa Runners, who recently elected Taylor to their board of directors, has helped keep him stable. He proudly lives his 21-year sober life. “They hold you accountable,” Taylor said of the club members who have accepted him without judgment from the start. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you if I did.”

Taylor ran her first marathon under three hours at California’s Avenue of the Giants last September. Blessed with redwoods, he finished with a time of 2:56:12, placing him first in his age group and fifth overall. He accompanied Frank His Luona, a longtime mentor who helped hone his talents, as his volunteer coach at his club’s 1000 Mile in San Quentin.

Before Covid-19 emerged — which bounced back in San Quentin and curtailed club activities for more than two years — Luona and other talented volunteer coaches ran two half marathons and one full marathon a year. organized a marathon.

Taylor was 27 when he was sentenced to life in prison for assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. He grew up a victim of domestic and sexual violence, was an alcoholic, and had a history of violence from his intimate partners.

He used the prison sentence as an opportunity to break out of old patterns. “It makes you grow, mature and smart,” he said. “It makes you a better person.”

Taylor was inspired to take up running as an antidote to despair after a close friend committed suicide after his fifth parole refusal. A runner, he was nicknamed Gazelle for his long, smooth strides, quick feet, and grace under pressure. “Running was a form of freedom,” he explained three years ago. “It was my therapy, my way of escaping. It kept me grounded.

In January 2019, Taylor scored a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. He was released after six weeks. With the help of supporters, including senior officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Taylor was given permission to run in Boston when he stuck like glue to the coach he traveled with. I ran the back enclosure and finished the first wave in 3:03:52. This was my personal best at the time.

When I run hard, I feel pain in my left ankle with a metal screw embedded in it as a result of jumping over a wall while being chased by three Rottweilers, reminding me of my past mistakes (“I was drunk and I thought I could jump,” he recalled.

“Anger is a secondary emotion to hurt, stress, and fear,” he said of his former self. It’s the same with people.”

A lot has changed in his life since then. Just three years ago, Taylor lived in a re-entry facility in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. There, residents were required to undergo a sobriety test, remove their shoes for contraband inspections, and pass through a metal detector at the door. Today, Taylor lives in his subsidized one-bedroom apartment in Tiburon, one of his most coveted and affluent communities in the Bay Area. “Man, you can’t beat it,” he said.

Nonetheless, the challenges he faces as a formerly incarcerated black man remain daunting. Taylor has held a variety of jobs over the past few years, most recently at a shelter-in-place for former homeless people run by a Catholic charity, where he worked at a motel.

He said he enjoyed “helping people change their lives” because he had experienced similar disabilities. When her nonprofit contract with the state expired, Taylor was disheartened to find that she was suddenly unemployed. To make ends meet, he currently works at a grocery store for minimum wage.

He hasn’t lost his marathon symbolism. “Running is humbling,” he said. “Sometimes you have to start in the back, like I do now for minimum wage. It’s like being turned down from the job you want because you’re asked for it.”

“Being black and living with a criminal record, no matter how successful you are today, you will always be haunted by your past.” There is no—unless it reaches their own backyard.”

Still, he believes things happen for a reason. Without a life sentence, I probably would never have become a runner, recovered from alcoholism, and grown into the warm and stable existence that I am today. This week he told several new acquaintances that he is running for higher power, citing his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness. I would like to find a job as a peer counselor.

Taylor launched a fledgling line of athletic clothing last year. This idea was cultivated during my life in prison. Its logo is based on Taylor’s silhouette breaking chains while running.